The proposed Washington conference was the last expedient of the border slave state conservatives to arrest revolution and political disintegration. Three months had passed since the November election. They had first proposed a conference of the slave states to consolidate Southern demands into a concerted program. The immediate secessionists rejected their plea, suspected their fealty to Southern rights, and frequently assailed them as submissionists. They coöperated with the conservatives of the border free states in an effort to conquer partisanship in the proceedings of Congress and procure definitive amendments to the Constitution. In this case the response from the Southern-rights men was favorable, but the rejection of every proposal by the majority party, representing Northern sectionalism, thwarted the hopes of the most conservative. Convinced that an unwilling Congress would adopt no remedy sufficient to counteract the trend toward separation, they asked for a national convention as the only constitutional means of referring the question to the sovereign people. This proposal was likewise rejected by the Republican party in Congress. Finally, after two months had passed without a single assurance of an adjustment of the national difficulties, the legislatures of p240five states turned their attention to the interests of their own constituents, and made provisions for state conventions.
At this particular moment a new probability was thrust into the midst of the already distracting situation, which demanded the exercise of superior judgment and fortitude, the imminence of civil war. The men who had carried the burden of attempted conciliation and reconstruction, who had been equally misjudged as submissionists by the immediate secessionists and as unconditional Unionists by the Republicans, remained loyal to their constitutional obligations as they understood them, but with a determination to defend their constitutional rights and the sovereignty of their states.1 They regarded the burden of proof as resting upon the federal government in its relations with the states, and were determined to resist coercion as subversive to liberty and the eternal principles of free government. The threatened collision between the federal troops and those of the Southern states, followed by the hostile resolutions of the Northern state legislatures, presented to the conservatives of the upper South an issue which they had not expected to arise until after the inauguration of Lincoln if at all. The Washington conference was their response to a new and dangerous p241situation. Its object was threefold: (1) to arrange some plan of conciliation (not necessarily of reconstruction), and to urge its adoption by Congress with all the moral force arising from its endorsement by the representatives of powerful constituencies; (2) to force from the governments of the Northern states some indication of their attitude toward compromise and conciliation; and (3) to counteract the drift toward civil war and allow time for a conservative reaction to develop.
The first objective was defeated before the conference met, because of the nature of the invitation. Virginia had requested a response from all states, "whether slaveholding or non-slaveholding, as are willing to unite with Virginia in an earnest effort to adjust the present unhappy controversies, in the spirit in which the Constitution was originally formed, and consistently with its principles so as to afford to the people of the slaveholding States adequate guarantees for the security of their rights . . . and, if practicable, agree upon some suitable adjustment."2 Twenty-one of the thirty-four states were represented. Delegates from six states of the lower South met on the same day at Montgomery for the purpose of forming a Southern confederacy, and these sent no commissioners to Washington. All the remaining states were represented except Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and Oregon. The slave states of the upper South would doubtless have been able to arrange some tangible agreement along the lines of the Crittenden amendments, if they had adhered to their original plan of a conference of Southern states for coöperative action; but the appointment of commissioners p242by the ultra-Republican states of northeast introduced elements into the conference too heterogeneous to coalesce. Most of the Northern state legislatures professed a desire to prevent the impending strife, but they differed from the people of the slave states over the validity of grievances, and consequently over the nature of remedies. They sent commissioners to the conference, moreover, for the avowed purpose of obstructing the early consummation of its deliberations. This was in accord with the tactics previously employed in both houses of Congress.
The legislature of Ohio, in conformity with this policy, appointed commissioners to Washington with instructions to use their influence to secure an adjournment until April 4, being "fully satisfied that the Constitution of the United States as it is, if fairly interpreted and obeyed by all sections of our country, contains ample provisions within itself for the correction of all evils complained of . . ."3 The Indiana commissioners were directed to take no action until at least nineteen states were represented, to refrain from final action upon any proposed amendments until after referring the matter to the legislature, and to insist upon an adjournment until all the states should have time to appoint commissioners.4 The legislature of Illinois appointed commissioners, because of an "earnest desire for the return and kind relations . . . and out of respect for the Commonwealth of Virginia," but with the statement that constitutional amendments were not necessary to secure adequate guarantees of Southern p243rights, and that the appropriate way to act upon the grievances complained of was by a national convention, as provided for in the Constitution. The Pennsylvania resolutions expressed the opinion that "no reasonable cause exists for this extraordinary excitement which now pervades some of the States, in relation to our domestic institution, and . . . the people of Pennsylvania do not desire any alteration or amendment of the Constitution of the United States."5 Expressions of this nature from the legislatures of the several states indicate the predominance of that wing of the Republican party which refused to admit the claims of the South for additional guarantees, denounced secession as treason, and was willing to combat it with military force. Their presence in the conference served only to hamper the efforts of the representatives from the upper South. Beyond a question some of the commissioners from the Northern states were willing to acknowledge that the South was not altogether wrong and preferred compromise to civil war; but in every case they constituted the minority in their state delegations and were helpless because of the second peculiar feature of the convention.
Virginia did not specify in her invitation the basis for representation in the conference, and there was no uniformity in this respect. Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, and Rhode Island followed the example of Virginia and appointed five commissioners to the conference; but Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Vermont and Tennessee sent delegations equal to their electoral votes. Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Pennsylvania appointed seven commissioners. Kentucky sent six, New p244Hampshire three, New Jersey nine, New York eleven, and Kansas four. The result was that the New England states, with a combined electoral vote of forty-one, were represented by thirty-four commissioners; the remaining free states, with an electoral vote of sixty-nine, were represented by forty-five commissioners. Whatever may have been the plan of procedure expected by those who conceived the idea of the convention, this irregularity of numbers compelled the conference to resort to the doubtful expediency of voting by states; and the seven slave states were at a tremendous disadvantage in securing the adoption of satisfactory recommendations.
A third factor militating against the success of the conference was the fact that it was held in Washington, where a partisan struggle of unusual proportions was being waged, during the last days of the Democratic administration, for the control of the federal offices and the distribution of $100,000,000 in patronage. The congressional leaders of the Republican party were hostile to any proposal which might tend to disorganize their party. Their one hope of permanent ascendancy rested upon an inflexible adherence to the Chicago platform; and whatever tendency the Republican members of the conference might otherwise have shown toward a willingness to make concessions was counteracted by the overpowering influence of party control.
Unpropitious as were these circumstances, they were completely overshadowed by the influence of the elections in Virginia and Tennessee. Their people were staking everything on the success of the Washington conference, and the response of the Northern states to the invitation of Virginia produced a conservative reaction against immediate secession. As a result, very few immediate secessionists p245were elected to the Virginia convention, February 4; and in Tennessee, five days later, the question of calling a convention was defeated by a popular vote of about 69,000 to 59,000. H. P. Bell and W. C. Daniell, commissioners from Georgia to Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively, arrived in Nashville on the day of the election, and held an extended conference with Governor Harris and Henry S. Foote. They explained the vote as indicative of a widespread belief that the Washington conference would be successful and that the purpose of the seceding states was to return eventually to the Union on a favorable basis granted by the North.6
Unfortunately, the successful party in these states was known as the Union party, and the term "Union" had one meaning in Virginia and Tennessee and quite a different meaning in the Northwest and in New England. Nothing can be more certain than the fact that, although few secessionists favoring immediate action were elected to the Virginia convention, there were still fewer unconditional submissionists elected, and that the latter party was in a hopeless minority in Tennessee. The Republicans, however, accepted the term "Union," as used in these states, to mean inflexible opposition to the course adopted by the lower South, interpreted the results of the elections as an indication that those states would not join with the lower South under any circumstances, and became less inclined than before to accede to any proposal capable of reconstructing the Union or of preventing the defection of the remaining slave states. The fallacy of this interpretation is clearly shown by the anti-coercion resolutions passed, by almost unanimous votes, in the legislatures p246of both states early in January.7 The Northern legislatures thoroughly misunderstood them. The legislature of Minnesota, in resolutions denouncing secession as treason and tendering military assistance to the federal government, expressed gratitude to the "patriotic citizens of the Southern States, who have nobly and manfully exerted their utmost efforts to prevent the catastrophe of dissolution."8 The legislature of Wisconsin resolved "that the Union-loving citizens of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, who labor with devoted courage and patriotism to withhold their States from the vortex of secession, are entitled to the gratitude and admission of the whole people."9
p247 Delegations from fourteen states only were present when the Washington conference completed its organization, and it was not until February 9 that the last of the twenty-one delegations presented its credentials. Many men of national prominence were present, including David Wilmot, John Tyler, J. Motley Morehead, James Guthrie, F. K. Zollicoffer, Alexander W. Doniphan, Salmon P. Chase, John E. Wool, and Reverdy Johnson. Ex-President Tyler was elected chairman of the convention, and James Guthrie was appointed chairman of the committee on resolutions. Every precaution was taken to keep the proceedings secret, and members were forbidden to give out any information whatever, except by special permission to their respective state conventions, legislatures, or governors. The resolutions committee did not report until February 15, and the conference did not adopt any recommendations until February 27. The proposed constitutional amendments adopted at that time were not explicit, nor were they satisfactory to the slave states. The first of these provided (1) that involuntary servitude should be prohibited in all territory north of 36 degrees 30 minutes; (2) that south of that line the "status of persons owing service or labor as it now exists shall not be changed by law while such territory shall be under a territorial government; and neither Congress nor the territorial government shall have power to hinder or prevent the taking of said territory of persons held to labor or involuntary service, within the United States, according to the laws or usages of the State from which p248such persons may be taken, nor to impair the rights arising out of said relation, which shall be subject to judicial cognizance in the federal courts, according to the common law"; and (3) that when the population of any territory should become equivalent to the then existing federal ratio of representation, it should be admitted as a state, with or without involuntary service or labor as its constitution might provide.10
This proposed amendment differed very essentially from the Crittenden amendment dealing with the territorial question. In substance, it excluded the slaveholder from four fifths of the common territories and subjected his rights in the remainder to the decisions of federal judges to be appointed by a Republican President. The fundamental principles of the party were that slavery had no legal existence outside the jurisdiction of state governments. Judicial decisions arising from disputes over the rights of the slaveholder would inevitably be predicated upon those principles. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 9 to 8, only five of the fourteen Northern states supporting it, and North Carolina and Virginia voting against it.11
p249 The second amendment offered by the committee provided that no further territory should be acquired except by treaty, and by consent of four fifths of all the members of the Senate. It was amended to provide that no territory should be acquired "except by discovery, and for naval and commercial stations depots, and transit routes," with a majority of all senators from the slave states and a majority of all senators from the free states concurring; or by treaty, with the vote of the majority of the senators from each section constituting a part of the two thirds majority necessary for treaty ratification. This proposal was carried by a vote of 11 to 8. Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island supported it, and North Carolina voted against it.12
The third amendment, as finally voted, provided that Congress should not regulate, abolish, or control involuntary service in the states or territories; nor abolish it in the District of Columbia without the consent of Maryland or without compensation; nor abolish it in places under the exclusive control of the United States within states where it was recognized; nor prohibit the removal of persons held to labor or involuntary service from one state to another or to the territories; nor place a higher rate of taxation on persons held to labor than on land. It was adopted by a vote of 12 to 7, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and all the slave states supporting it.13 The fourth amendment was that the "third paragraph of the second edition of the fourth article of the Constitution shall not be construed to prevent any of p250the States, by appropriate legislation . . . from enforcing the delivery of fugitives from labor to the person to whom such service or labor is due." It was intended to prevent Congress from interfering with the surrender of fugitive slaves, rather than to provide for a more strict enforcement of the fugitive slave law; but it was opposed by Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. It was approved by a vote of 15 to 4, New York and Kansas being divided and not voting.14 The fifth amendment prohibited the foreign slave trade, and imposed upon Congress the duty of preventing the "importation of slaves, coolies, or persons held to service or labor, into the United States and the Territories from places beyond the limits thereof." It was adopted by a vote of 16 to 5, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia opposing.15 A final amendment providing for compensation for fugitives from labor lost through intimidation of officials, and providing that the acceptance of compensation should preclude the owner from further claim to the fugitive, was adopted by a vote of 12 to 7.16
Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa voted against every important amendment. New York was divided and did not vote on the six major proposals. The result of these votes, together with the fact that Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota failed to send commissioners to the conference, was added proof that the North, with the possible exception of Rhode Island and the border states, would sanction no effort p251whatever toward conciliation. It substantiates, moreover, the fact that aside from Rhode Island, the New England states sent commissioners to the conference for no other purpose than to prevent the successful consummation of its efforts.17 Additional evidence of this is to be found in two letters written by Senators Bingham and Chandler of Michigan to Governor Blair of that state. Chandler wrote, February 11, "Governor Bingham and myself telegraphed you on Saturday, at the request of the Massachusetts and New York, to send delegates to the peace or compromise Congress. They admit that we were right and that they were wrong; that no Republican State should have sent delegates; but they are here and cannot get away. Ohio, Indiana, and Rhode Island are caving in, and there is danger of Illinois; and now they beg us, for God's sake, to come to their rescue, and save the Republican party from rupture. I hope you will send stiff-backed men or none." Four days later Bingham wrote Blair that if Michigan and Wisconsin would "send delegations of true, unflinching men, there would probably be a majority in favor of the Constitution as it is, who would frown down rebellion by the enforcement of laws."18
Following the final vote on the several proposed amendments, a resolution was offered by Franklin of Pennsylvania which denied the constitutional right of a state to secede from the Union or to absolve its citizens from their allegiance to the government of the United States. p252A motion to lay this on the table was defeated by a vote of 9 to 12. Ohio and New Jersey were the only Northern states which voted in the affirmative, and it appeared that the conference was about to dissolve over the question of coercion. Sober counsels prevailed, however, and the resolution was indefinitely postponed. Rhode Island united with Ohio, New Jersey, and the slave states, and New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Kansas refused to vote.19 The conference then agreed to submit the result of its deliberations to Congress with the request that they be transmitted to the states as amendments to the Constitution. Its recommendations were received by the Senate, February 27, and referred to a special committee composed of Crittenden, Bigler, Thompson, Seward, and Trumbull. A motion to make the committee report the special order of business for the following day was carried by a vote of 26 to 21. Every senator from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa voted against it.20 The majority of the committee, consisting of Crittenden, Bigler, and Thompson, presented the conference recommendations unchanged, with a resolution to submit them to the states as amendments to the Constitution.21 Seward offered as a substitute a resolution requesting the state legislatures to take under consideration the question of calling a national convention and to report their desires to Congress. An effort to substitute the original Crittenden amendments for the conference report was defeated by a vote of 14 to 25. The resolution offered by Seward was defeated by the same vote; and the amendments proposed p253by the conference convention were rejected by a vote of 3 to 34. Speaker Pennington withheld them from the House of Representatives, and the thirty-sixth Congress passed out of existence without providing for reconstructing the Union either by conciliation or coercion.
The recommendations of the Washington conference would not have been acceptable to Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina, even if Congress had adopted them.22 Its failure resolved the issue before the country into the single alternative between separation and civil war; and it left the states of the upper South to face in a short while a choice of allegiance. Meanwhile, interstate commissioners had been industriously advocating the cause of the Confederate States. The importance of their activities can be measured only by the manifold character of the duties they had to perform. They were primarily engaged in awakening the people to the dangers which threatened Southern institutions. Their work was the culmination of efforts of the minority who had seen in abolitionism, at the beginning of the slavery controversy, a rising tide of fanaticism which would eventually sweep over and destroy the institution of slavery. They believed that war was inevitable unless the entire South could be united, and they sought to awaken the people of the upper South to the crisis before the opportunity passed. p254From the speeches and writings of the commissioners, as nowhere else, one may realize the depth of feeling and the lack of sympathy between the two sections of the country. Vividly denunciatory of a party pledged to the destruction of Southern institutions, almost tragic in their prophetic tone, and pleading for unity of allied interests, they constitute one of the most interesting series of documents in American history. Their theme was, in every case, a complete arraignment of the Northern people, and especially of Republican sectionalism raised to a position of authority in the government. They emphasized the cleavage of the churches, the conflict of political principles, and the contrast of social systems as evidence of a condition which would not yield to compromise. Built upon the principle of hatred for slavery, the Republican party must, as an assurance of future success, become permanently hostile to the institution. It betokened hatred for the slaveholder, desire for the social and political equality of the races, and contempt for the economic weaknesses of the South. The aims and ideals of the abolitionists were so deeply rooted as to be beyond the power of modification. This general indictment was not universally accepted by the people of the upper South; and the work of the commissioners was a final effort to secure its acceptance in the wavering states to the point where active participation in the cause of secession would result.
Persuasions toward secession involved the question of possible reconstruction; and the commissioners labored to convince the people that the lower South would never again willingly consent to live in a Union with Northern abolitionists. "Our separation is final and irrevocable," said Commissioner Hall of Georgia to the North Carolina p255legislature, February 13.23 "We ask no compromise, and we want none," said Fulton Anderson of Mississippi before the Virginia convention, February 18. "We know that we should not get it if we were base enough to desire it, and we have made the irrevocable resolve to take our interests into our own keeping."24 To the same convention on the following day John S. Preston of South Carolina said:
Leaving out of consideration the fact that the acquiescence, which originally founded the Union, was enforced by necessity rather than free consent, the truth seems evident, to every mind which dares to speculate advisedly on the manifest principles of that revolution we are now enacting, that they do involve fundamental and irreconcilable diversities, between the systems on which slaveholding and non-slaveholding communities may endure. We believe that these repellent diversities pertain to every attribute which belongs to the two systems, and consequently that this revolution . . . is not only a revolution of actual material necessity, but it is a revolution resulting from the deepest convictions; the ideas, the sentiments, the moral and intellectual necessities, of earnest and intelligent men.25
Next to the hope of securing guarantees from the Northern states which would secure their own safety in the union, and the fainter hope of being able to reconstruct the Union, the question of the probable future rights of the slave producer in the markets of the lower South was the most important factor in influencing the subsequent action of the remaining slave states. The constitution of the Confederate States forbade the African p256slave trade, and gave to Congress the power to exclude slaves from the United States. Unless the states of the upper South joined the confederacy, their slave markets were gone forever; but they were afraid that the African trade would eventually be reopened, and they resented the latter clause of the Constitution as a cleverly devised trick to drag them out of the Union. The task of quieting their apprehensions on these points devolved upon the commissioners. Speaking before the North Carolina legislature, Hall of Georgia said:
Appeals have been made to your fears — you have been urged to resist this natural and homogenous alliance for the reason that it was the design of the Cotton States to reopen the foreign slave trade. . . . No considerable portion of our people have ever favored the policy of reviving it, while many of them have been opposed to the federal legislation upon that subject, for the reason that they regarded it as the exercise of powers not delegated, and because of the stupidly cruel and severe penalties inflicted upon an act not intrinsically wrong, but only rendered so by politic considerations. Go on, and continue to raise the supply of labor, and we will provide for our wants in your market. We could have influenced your action by prohibiting the introduction of your slaves into our midst. We could have increased them in your borders by restrictive policy, until they would have become worse than valueless to you. We were unwilling to constrain the action of a free people.26
Meanwhile, Benning of Georgia had urged Virginia to join the Confederate States because their share of the territories would be thrown open to slavery, and the value of Virginia's slave property would be increased. He denied that the clause of the Constitution giving Congress the power to prevent the introduction of slaves from the p257United States was in the nature of a threat. "Its object was not to threaten you, but to save ourselves. If you should join the North, the mere injustice of self-preservation dictates that we ought to do all in our power to keep you a slave State as long as possible. And the best way to do that would be to prevent your citizens from selling their slaves to ours. And, I have no doubt, that they would be prevented from doing so."27
Two powerful and conflicting forces, therefore, were influencing the people of the upper South during the month preceding the inauguration. The one, appealing to their devotion to the old Union, centered around the activities of the Washington conference and tended to counteract immediate secession sentiment. The other, operating upon their sense of personal security and somewhat upon their economic interests, grew out of the formation of the Southern confederacy, and was the natural trend toward coöperation by people possessing similar political and social institutions. The calling of the Washington conference and the sending of delegates by the Northern states probably prevented the immediate secession of most of the remaining slave states during January. It certainly delayed secession in Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina, and prevented it in Kentucky and Missouri. The people of Tennessee defeated the calling of a convention by only ten thousand votes, and the people of North Carolina by less than one thousand. The election in the latter state occurred the day following the adjournment of the Washington conference, but before the news of its failure could reach the rural districts. Commissioner Hall of Georgia reported p258that misleading dispatches were sent into the central part of the state, stating that the conference had agreed upon a settlement which was certain to be accepted by Congress. The vote was 46,672 for a convention and 47,323 against it. Hall claimed that the result would have been reversed if the people had known the truth concerning the Washington conference. The commissioners upon their return from Washington announced that all hope of reconstructing the Union was gone, and a reaction in favor of immediate secession swept over the state.28
The Washington conference had been in session only a few days when Lincoln left Springfield for Washington. Traveling leisurely, he spoke in many cities along the route. His first speech, at Indianapolis, February 9, rendered futile the efforts then being made to effect conciliation and evoked bitter response from the few remaining anti-secession newspapers of the upper South. Every speech thereafter fanned the fierce fires of resistance in the loyal slave states. Somewhat facetious and evasive, they nevertheless contained a political philosophy which, if established in practice, would destroy state lines and establish the rule of an unrestrained majority in a consolidated nation. He denied that there was just cause for political unrest at the South, and pledged faithful adherence to the Chicago platform. The Nashville Patriot spoke of him as a "narrow-minded Republican partisan," and of his speeches as disclosing "sentiments which, if meant as an indication of the policy of his administration, show that he will surely have need of prayer, and a great deal of it." The New Orleans Bee could not find in his speeches "a trace of enlarged and comprehensive statesmanship"; and the Wilmington Journal regarded them as p259a "specimen of such consolidation doctrine as few men would have dared to utter, and none of any party at the South can possibly sustain."29
Lincoln's inaugural address reached the people of the slave states about the same time as the reports of their commissioners to the Washington conference. His assertion that all national governments are intended to be perpetual, and his further contention that no state could escape from an association of states without the consent of all, are too familiar to need repetition. They were an express denial of the right of secession. His position, to that extent, was in accord with the sentiment of many Union men in the slave states. His additional sentiment, however, that he intended to enforce the laws, collect the revenues, and deliver the mails in those states which had seceded was a heavy blow to their expectations. They had ardently worked for reconstruction, and had believed that Lincoln would adopt a pacific policy and look to time and p260calm reflection to relieve the sectional enmity and reconstruct the old union of states. This portion of the address was regarded by many as a virtual declaration of war.30
That part of the address which dealt with the rights of slavery under the Constitution and with political principles, however, was of far greater significance to the conservatives of the upper South. Taking the context of the passage dealing with the surrender of fugitive slaves in its entirety, and making allowance for Lincoln's proclivity to answer one question by propounding another, they understood him to mean: (1) that the federal government should assume the burden of surrendering the fugitive slaves; (2) that the existing fugitive slave law should be repealed and another substituted which would guarantee the right of habeas corpus and jury trial to fugitives; and (3) that the opposition of the Northern states through the medium of personal liberty laws would then cease, since there would no longer be any necessity for those laws. The suggestion that the citizens of each state should be guaranteed the privileges of citizens in the other states by congressional legislation was especially repulsive to state-rights men of the slave states. Aside from the dangerous precedent which such legislation would establish, it would strike at the fundamental principle upon which the institution of slavery rested: the inequality of the races; and the suggestion involved the doctrine frequently expressed at the North that negroes who were recognized as citizens in Northern states should be extended citizenship and equal privileges with all other citizens in the slave states. However, the full significance p261of this suggestion in its influence upon the South is lost unless considered in connection with the additional statement:
All profess to be content in the Union if all constitutional rights can be maintained. Is it true, then, that any right plainly written in the Constitution has been denied? I think not. Happily, the human mind is so constituted that no party can reach to the audacity of doing this. . . . But no organic law can ever be framed with a provision specifically applicable to every question which may occur in practical administration. . . . Shall fugitives from labor be surrendered by national or by State authority? The Constitution does not expressly say. May Congress prohibit slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Congress protect slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say.
From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divided upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no other alternative, for continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the other.
This was taken to imply constitutional construction which in practical application would annihilate all rights of minorities and subject them to the unrestrained will of the majority. It denied the doctrine of the immediate secessionists, that in all cases of dispute between a state and the federal government the state was, in the last analysis, the judge of the extent of its grievances and of the mode and measure of redress. It denied the doctrine of the so‑called Unionists of the slave states, that in a similar case the burden of proof was upon the federal government, and that the state might interpose its sovereignty until such time as the people of the several states through delegates assembled in national convention should p262render a decision. It denied the doctrine of those who regarded the Supreme Court as the final arbiter in all disputes between the federal government and the states. It went farther and implied that, in all cases of dispute over questions of constitutional construction not specifically dealt with in the Constitution, the minority of the people must submit to the will of the majority, irrespective of Supreme Court decisions. "May Congress prohibit slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say." Lincoln, thinking of a consolidated nation and of the people as an aggregate whole, said the majority must decide. The Southerners felt that he might well have added: "May Congress abolish slavery within the limits of the States? The Constitution does not expressly say; but the majority must decide." Apparently every power not expressly granted or denied in the Constitution was to be a matter for controversy and subject to the decision of a numerical majority. Coming as a climax to the opposition of the Northern majority to all plans of conciliation, it rendered nugatory the claim that the Southern states had no reasonable cause for apprehension.
The inaugural address was intended to announce the policy of the administration, and from the policy then outlined Lincoln never deviated. Uncertainty and divided counsels prevailed for a time, however, and the entire political situation was confused by the Sumter issue because Lincoln did not take his Cabinet into his confidence. The Union men of the upper South misinterpreted the hesitancy over reinforcing Anderson to be an indication of a peace policy, and were encouraged in their misapprehension by members of the Cabinet. The aggressive policy finally inaugurated by Lincoln was a heavy blow to the remnant who were laboring for peaceable reconstruction. p263Some of them felt that their position had been misconstrued by the Lincoln administration; most of them felt that they had been deceived for the purpose of dividing the South. John R. Eakin, one of the strongest opponents of secession in Arkansas up to the time of the issuance of Lincoln's proclamation, said:
We have been deceived. With a knowledge of that came a settled distrust, mingled with that loathsome repugnance with which we always regard those who have tampered with the holiest feelings of our nature. The breach is irreparable. We shall oppose hereafter all efforts to restore the Union. It is no longer desirable. We must be as two people forever.31
F. K. Zollicoffer, who had been a member of the Washington conference, and was one of the Southern men who sanctioned the measures proposed by that conference, said: "We all agree in commending the wisdom, the justice, and the humanity of the refusal of our state to furnish men and arms to the President with which to subjugate our brethren of the seceded States. We agree in reprobating a war of coercion upon sister slaveholding States, and in pledging the whole military force of the States, in resistance to a war of humiliation of those who are defending p264rights and interests as dear to us as to them." The Union Executive Committee of Shelby County, Tennessee, issued an address which said in part:
In the excited contest through which we have so lately passed, we boldly and triumphantly maintained the loyalty of our beloved State to the Federal Union. In this we acted from honest and patriotic convictions of right. Sympathizing with our brethren of the seceded States, yet we could not see the necessity of their action, and deplored the course they saw fit to pursue. . . . On the other hand, although a sectional party that we abhorred had obtained possession of the Government, we still hoped that even the President of its choice, in view of the awful responsibility that rested upon him, would be constrained to pursue a conciliatory and pacific policy. . . . Our expectations have been disappointed. We have been deceived by false and treacherous representations of what would be the policy of Mr. Lincoln's Administration. . . . A Northern army is to be marched over the territory of the Southern States, that have stood loyal to the Union, to subdue and chastise our brethren. . . . Mr. Lincoln's government, pursuing the course that is indicated, we feel absolved from all obligations thereto, and acknowledge fealty alone to our own State.32
Similar statements were issued by John Bell of Tennessee, Ex-Governor Morehead of Kentucky, Ex-President Tyler of Virginia, and other men of prominence. The earnestness with which they had sustained their convictions during the trying period of secession remains as a rich inheritance too long overshadowed by the results of the war which followed. They abhorred the thought of the disintegration of the Union and the horrors of civil war. They did not believe that the Lincoln administration would assume the fearful responsibility of attempting to force the constitutional principles of the Republican party p265upon the country by a war of subjugation, without first referring the issue to the people or to their representatives assembled in Congress. Their disillusionment came with Lincoln's proclamation giving the people of the South twenty days in which to submit to the authority of the federal government, and from that time they joined the original secessionists in resistance to what they regarded the tyranny of military despotism.
1 "So limited is the understanding of Southern principles that the North is wholly insensible to the truth that there is no Union party in some ten or more slaveholding States. It confounds Coöperationists with Unionists, and is possessed with the fallacious idea that because many high-minded and sincere Southerners believed it would be more expedient for the Cotton States to act in concert than to withdraw separately, they are all anxious to preserve the Union, albeit at the price of submission to the administration of Abraham Lincoln. This is a wild and absolutely baseless notion. Seven-eightsº of the Coöperationists are heartily in favor of secession." The New Orleans Bee, January 22, 1861. See, also, The Daily South Carolinian, December 9, 1860; The Daily Herald, Wilmington, March 8, 1861; The Daily True Delta, New Orleans, February 15, 1861; Louisville Daily Journal, January 5, 1861; The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, December 28, 1860.
2 Official Journal of the Conference Convention held at Washington City, February, 1861, 3.
3 "Joint Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, relative to the Appointment of Commissioners to the Convention to meet in Washington on the 4th of February, proximo," in ibid., 88.
4 "A joint Resolution authorizing the Governor to appoint Commissioners to meet those sent by other States in Convention on the State of the Union," in ibid., 88.
5 "Resolutions to appoint Commissioners to a Convention of the States," in ibid., 91‑92.
6 Walker to Moore, January 16, 1861, Official Records . . . Armies, Series IV, Vol. I, 56; Daniell, "Report," in Journal of the Convention of the People of Georgia . . . 1861, 365‑366.
7 The fallacy of the Northern interpretation is also shown by the following statements from two Nashville papers which did not advocate secession until after Lincoln's war proclamation. The Daily Nashville Patriot, February 10, 1861, said: "We would not have the people of the Free States misunderstand our position, and we take this occasion to remind them that the continued loyalty of Tennessee to the existing Government will depend upon the spirit with which her earnest and patriotic efforts to save that Government are received by them. They must not suppose . . . that the majority are for coercion . . . that that majority have any purpose of submitting to the Republican electioneering dogma that the people of the Southern States are to be excluded by legislation from the privilege of settling in the Territories with their slaves." The Republican Banner, February 19, 1861, said: "We find journals in the North which pretend to believe that the election of the 9th was an expression of unqualified adherence to the Union . . . such is not the case. We mean to push the experiment of adjustment and settlement of this controversy to the last honorable and reasonable limit, and when we have done so unsuccessfully, we will set up for ourselves in a lawful way, and accept the consequences, whatever they may be." See, also, The Daily Herald, Wilmington, February 6, 1861; Louisville Daily Journal, January 5, 1861; and Remarks of Caruthers and Smith, in Chittenden, A Report of the Debates and Proceedings in the Secret Sessions of the Conference Convention . . . 1861, 214.
8 "Joint Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of Minnesota, on the State of the union," House Mis. Docs., 36 Cong., 2 Sess., Doc. 33.
9 "Joint Resolutions, coöperating with Friends of the Union throughout the United States," in Official Correspondence of Governor John J. Pettus, 1859‑1860. See, also, "Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of Ohio, on the State of the Republic," ibid., Doc. 18.
10 Official Journal of the Conference Convention . . . 1861, 22‑23.
11 Ibid., 71‑72. Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island voted for the proposition, with Meredith and Wilmot of Pennsylvania, Cook of Illinois, Chase and Wolcott of Ohio dissenting. Ruffin and Morehead of North Carolina, and Rives and Summers of Virginia were willing to support the measure; but Clay and Morehead of Kentucky and Totten of Tennessee opposed it. Field of New York was absent when the vote was taken. His absence left the delegation divided and it did not vote. He was opposed to the proposal and but for his absence it would not have passed.
12 Ibid., 72. New York and Kansas were divided. Meredith and Wilmot of Pennsylvania, Ruffin and Morehead of North Carolina, Tyler of Virginia, Clay of Kentucky, Hackleman and Orth of Indiana dissented.
13 Clay of Kentucky, Cook of Illinois, Slaughter of Indiana, Chase and Wolcott of Ohio dissented.
14 Ibid., 74.
15 The following commissioners dissented from the vote of their states: Baldwin of Connecticut; Clay of Kentucky; Ruffin and Morehead of North Carolina; Chase and Wolcott of Ohio; Hackleman and Orth of Indiana.
16 Ibid., 75. Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia voted in the negative.
17 Delegates from these states occupied the time of the convention in seeking to confine its efforts to advising a national convention, denouncing the convention as revolutionary, and of dangerous precedent, condemning Virginia's anti-coercion resolutions, and in a useless rehash of the historical basis for principles enunciated in the Chicago platform. See Chittenden, op. cit., 59‑74; 98‑102; 161‑189; 219‑243.
18 Chandler to Blair, February 11, 1861, and Bingham to Blair, February 15, 1861, in Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., II, 1247.
19 Official journal of the Conference Convention . . . 1861, 76‑77.
20 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., II, 1255.
21 Ibid., 1270.
22 See "Speech of Mr. Davis at Thalian Hall — The Peace Conference and its Failure," in The Wilmington Journal, March 4, 1861; "Mr. Davis' Speech," in The Daily Herald, March 4, 1861; and "Minority Report of William O. Butler and James B. Clay, Commissioners to the Peace Convention," in Louisville Daily Journal, March 26, 1861. See, also, New Orleans Daily Crescent, February 19, 1861; Richmond Enquirer, March 14, 1861. For a statement of the Kentucky commissioners who supported the conference report, see "Majority Report of Messrs. Wickliffe, Morehead, Bell, and Guthrie, Commissioners, to the Governor of Kentucky," in Louisville Daily Herald, March 26, 1861.
23 Hall, "Address before the Legislature of North Carolina, February 13, 1861," in Journal of the Convention of the People of Georgia . . . 1861, 362‑363.
24 Addresses delivered before the Virginia State Convention . . . 1861, 12.
25 Ibid., 51‑59.
26 Hall, "Address before the Legislature of North Carolina, February 13, 1861," in Journal of the Convention of the People of Georgia . . . 1861, 363‑364.
27 Addresses delivered before the Virginia State Convention . . . 1861, 41.
28 See the Wilmington Journal, March 16, 1861.
29 The Wilmington Journal, February 16, 1861; Louisville Daily Journal, February 14, 1861; Daily Courier, Louisville, February 16, 1861; Daily Nashville Patriot, February 15, 16, and 24, 1861; The New Orleans Bee, February 27, 1861. These newspapers were representative of the most conservative Southern sentiment. The extreme opinion is indicated by the following statement from the Daily Delta, February 26, 1861: "His silly speeches, his ill-timed jocularity, his pusillanimous evasion of responsibility, and vulgar petty-foggery, have no parallel in history, save in the crazy papers of Caligula, or in the effeminate buffoonery of Henry of Valois . . . in profound ignorance of the institutions of the Republic of which he has been chosen chief; in dishonest and cowardly efforts to dodge responsibility and play a double part — in disgusting levity on the most serious subjects, the speeches of Lincoln, on his way to the capital, have no equals in the history of any people, civilized or semi-civilized." The Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, March 1, 1861, said: "The State which replied to Force bills with those Resolutions which fixed forever Secession to be a right, is now to bend her haughty neck beneath the paw of the Abolition orang-outang that skulked to Washington the other day from the wilds of Illinois, and who will, in three days more, be propped in the Chair of Washington by the sword of a military dictator."
30 Nashville Union and American, March 5, 1861; The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, March 6, 1861; New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 6, 1861; The Richmond Dispatch, March 5, 1861; Richmond Enquirer, March 5, 1861.
31 The Republican Banner, April 21, 1861. The Missouri Republican, April 19, 1861, said: "Alas! it is becoming not a question of secession and treason, but a question of our own and our children's freedom — a question whether our liberties are secured by laws or whether they are subject to the will, the mere will of despotism." The Daily Nashville Patriot expressed similar sentiments, May 2, 1861: "The object of this war is unquestionably to establish the Chicago platform as the paramount rule in the administration of the Government. It involves two of the prime foundation principles of republican institutions and liberty. It denies the right of property and overturns the idea that all free government is founded on the consent of the people. In yielding to this monstrous aggressive war, we yield both these. Slavery is the pretext, and anti-slavery fanaticism is the motive power; and both are sought to be sustained by a perfidious appeal to a constitution violated and to laws trampled in the dust."
32 "Address of the Union Executive Committee of Shelby County," in the Republican Banner, April 21, 1861.
Images with borders lead to more information.
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 6 Mar 13